RFK Human Rights Urges U.S. Higher Education Institutions to Protect Civic Space

RFK Human Rights proudly partners with activists around the world in defense of civic space. By protecting people’s ability to peacefully assemble and express matters of conscience before their governments, we work to accomplish Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s vision of a more just and peaceful world.

Over the past week, students and faculty across the United States who engaged in nonviolent demonstrations have been met with militarized forces. Police in riot gear have used chemical weapons against students, slammed a professor’s head into concrete pavement, and drawn military-grade weapons against protestors accused of nothing more than peaceful civil disobedience.

“It is gravely distressing to see civic space in United States college campuses threatened by police violence,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of RFK Human Rights. “My father’s first campaign speech in his run for the presidency took place at the University of Kansas in the spring of 1968, amidst a growing student protest movement in opposition to the Vietnam War. That day, he spoke of the ‘spirit of honest confrontation’ fueled by young peoples’ cries in opposition to the war. He reminded America that “We as a people are strong enough, we are brave enough to be told the truth of where we stand.’”

As reports of mass arrests of protestors on legally spurious charges circulate, we urge university leaders to pursue peaceful resolutions to address protestors’ concerns. At several universities, administrators, and protesters have met in honest dialogue to address student concerns, with both sides committing to de-escalation and future cooperative action.

Our nation’s colleges and universities play a special role in the preservation of our open and democratic society. At their best, they model how passionate debate and free exchange of ideas lead us away from violence. As the world watches administrators’ reactions to peaceful dissent, we urge them to remember their special duty to preserve civic space for all.